Health Canada’s Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC) announced two significant changes to the physical security requirements for licensed producers under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in an unexpected statement released yesterday. Producers are no longer required to store cannabis in a vault, nor are they required to maintain 24-hour video surveillance of grow rooms in production facilities. These changes were implemented by way of two separate exemptions made under s.56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
These changes were in response to Health Canada’s ongoing efforts to strike an appropriate balance between public safety and the regulatory burdens imposed upon LPs. Given that there hasn’t been a security breach with any Canadian LP since the MMPR came into force, this makes sense. For recent applicants, the timing is fortuitous, as they are just breaking ground on new facilities. For others, it came a little too late: imagine digesting this news as you are listening to the beeping of a cement truck backing up to your facility to pour your vault walls (true story). Regardless, even if these changes came too late from a construction perspective, they still create opportunities for operational changes going forward, and can also be relied upon in any future expansions or additional sites.
Here’s what the exemptions entail:
No more vault
The first exemption provides that LPs will no longer be required to store cannabis in a vault that meets the requirements of the Directive on Physical Security Requirements for Controlled Substances. Now, LPs may store cannabis in a ‘secure area.’ The secure storage area must have physical barriers, an intrusion detection system and 24/7 visual monitoring and recording capability. A record must be kept of everyone entering or exiting, and access to those areas must be restricted to those whose presence is required by their work responsibilities. The rule that the Responsible Person In Charge (or an alternate RPIC) must be physically present whenever anyone is in this storage area remains. Storage areas cannot be located in rooms where cannabis plants are being cultivated, propagated, harvested or trimmed, but seeds can be stored in such rooms.
No more grow room cameras
The second exemption relieves LPs from the requirement to maintain 24-hour video surveillance inside the rooms where cannabis plants are being cultivated, propagated, harvested or trimmed. And we’re not just talking one camera here… previously, LPs were required to have enough cameras to sufficiently record every part of a room, accounting for the presence of mature plants. The requirement for motion detectors in these rooms is also removed. But they still need a visual recording device directly outside all points of entry and exit. The room must also still be secured by a monitored intrusion detection system. The requirements for physical barriers to the room, access logs, RPIC presence and air filtration also remain in place.
The changes weren’t a surprise because they were part of the proposals set out in Health Canada’s consultation paper on cannabis regulation. But the timing sure was.
The proposals were intended to be implemented with the Cannabis Act, anticipated for July. When the changes were first proposed in November, ACMPR advisors (including myself) wanted to know how this affected existing applicants who were on the verge of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on vaults, cultivation room cameras and data storage. At the regulatory roundtables that took place in December, we were told that it would be inappropriate for the OMC to discuss transitional issues until after the consultation period closed. Since that only happened on Jan. 20, I was expecting to propose ‘transitional plans’ to the OMC, which would allow late-stage applicants to be granted a production licence without installing security features that were proposed to be removed. So yesterday’s news came as a very pleasant and welcome surprise!
New LP applicants who wish to take advantage of one or both of these exemptions can tailor their applications to meet the requirements set out in the exemptions. Existing applicants can take advantage of the exemptions by making a submission to the OMC setting out the changes to be made and demonstrating how they meet the requirements of the exemptions. LPs can also take advantage of these exemptions. For example, cameras and motion detectors within grow rooms can be deactivated. LPs have been advised to contact the OMC to determine whether their proposed changes (in reliance upon these exemptions) will require an amendment to their licence.
These exemptions are not mandatory. Applicants and LPs can choose to take advantage of one or both of them. The OMC set a new minimum standard for physical site security features, with emphasis on the word “minimum.” So while a dozen cameras recording every nook and cranny of your grow rooms may be overkill, a few cameras may still be advisable. With respect to vault removal, security consultant David Hyde has already noted (on Twitter of course) that reducing the storage standard “to that of any other Sub-Div C room is far too low a bar. It's up to LPs/applicants now to take a risk-based approach rather than blindly adhere to the (very) minimum #ACMPR standard.” And Cannabis Compliance’s Mike Elkin noted: “These changes further cement the need for quality consultants in the space. Now it’s not just ridiculous overkill. Now you need to design.”
As always, never a dull moment for Canada’s cannabis industry.
Read the full statement from Health Canada here.
FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.